With over 20 years of animation behind them, the large cast of Neon Genesis Evangelion is wonderfully complex yet enticingly mysterious. Whether it’s begrudgingly working together to save the world or learning how to live in the same apartment together, the network of friendships and rivalries connecting everyone propels Evangelion forward. Below are the central figures, in case you want to brush up on your Eva lore before Thrice Upon a Time or find some new trivia about your favorite pilot.
Light spoilers Neon Genesis Evangelion and Rebuild of Evangelion.
The Third Child, pilot of Eva Unit-01, Shinji is the Evangelion’s protagonist. Growing up after the apocalypse has already happened, with another seeming imminent, the appeal of the character’s struggles with depression, powerlessness, and gender-feels lives on today. Love him or hate him, Shinji can’t seem to stop bending the world.
The operations director of Nerv HQ, colonel Misato Katsuragi is the first millennial. That’s not some title given by Nerv, but instead part of what has made Evangelion so enduring is its prescient representation of young adults and kids living through the end of the world. There are some pretty clear parallels here to the world we live in now. Despite being responsible for protecting all of humanity, Misato is humorously and relatably burdened by car payments, her small but incredibly stylish wardrobe, and taking care of her boss’s kid.
The First Child and pilot of Eva Unit-00. With her haunting blue hair Rei is perhaps the most recognizable character from Evangelion. More than anyone else, our understanding of Rei — and Rei’s understanding of herself — have evolved dramatically throughout the series and into the Rebuild films.
Asuka Langley Soryu
The Second Child and pilot of Eva Unit-02. Always finding the tallest surface to monologue from, Asuka is a dominating figure on the screen and battlefield. But beneath her braggadocious exterior lies a deep sense of loss and longing for affection.
Asuka Shikinami Langley
While every character undergoes dramatic transformation in the Rebuild of Evangelion, Asuka enters the series significantly altered. Symbolized by her new surname, the character departs from her original in important ways. She almost seems like the ideal of Asuka the original pilot held, one that was adept and independent in her mech and her heart.
The chief scientist at NERV, Ritsuko oversees the development and repair of the Eva’s. Growing up in NERV, she soon befriended the orphaned Misato who now acts as her operational counterpart. Together the duo know just how to annoy the other while saving the world.
Among a cast of duplicitous agents with their own agendas, Kaji stands out as a triple agent working for the Japanese Government, Nerv, and Seele. An old flame of Misato’s before his work took him to Europe (where he met Asuka) and America (where he knew Mari in Rebuild), Kaji and Misato’s relationship when he returns to Nerv is a central subplot in the original anime. His current whereabouts in Rebuild are unclear.
Both the ultimate wife guy and the worst dad, there’s something deeply personal we can all hate about Gendo. In his single-minded obsession to reconnect with his late wife, Gendo distorted Yui’s intentions for the Evangelion program and made mankind into the enemy of Nerv. Yet despite the … of his intentions, he is a devilish mastermind and seems one step ahead of everyone else, even the plot itself.
Gendo’s right-hand man, Vice Commander Fuyutski is a much more sympathetic character. Though we get very little in way of dialogue from the older man, we learn about his life as it revolved around Yui Ikari and the inception of Nerv after her death. Originally a professor of Yui, Fuyutski was roped into the shadow organisation by Gendo and his foremost student after the second impact.
As one of Shinji’s few friends, Toji is a pawn of Gendo and Nerv’s machinations. Destined to become the ill-fated Fourth Child in the original anime, Toji is pointedly replaced by Asuka in the Rebuild of Evangelion as he promises Shinji that ‘things are starting to look up.’ Reader, things did not get better from there.
Mari Makinami Illustrious
As an entirely new character in Rebuild, Mari’s origins and her role in the films are still mysterious. She seems to have worked with an American equivalent to Nerv, and effortlessly infiltrates Nerv in Evangelion 2.0 to steal Unit-02. Replacing Asuka (injured after she replaced Toj in Unit-03), she fights in the geo-front and pushes Shinji to get in the robot — all in time for the Third Impact.
Kaworu, Tabris, the 17th Angel, the Fifth Child. You could possibly add “Shinji’s love interest” to that list, if he didn’t keep dying in front of the kid. Kaworu quickly gets closer to Shinji than any other character in the series. While he does seem to truly care for him, the Angel clearly has other motivations for being so close to the Third Child.